unschooling: are you smart or dumb?

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” (Albert Einstein)

Let me ask you something. Would you agree that, when it comes to school, those kids who are good at it are considered “smart” and those whoΒ aren’t so good at it are pegged as “dumb?”

And do you think kids have figured out, from a pretty early age, which category they fit into?

How do you think this affects them throughout their lives?

I’ll elaborate on this more soon but, for now, I have a very personal, highly-sensitive question to ask you:

When you were in school, did you think of yourself as smart or dumb? Why?

Bonus question: Do you still feel the same way, or has your opinion of yourself changed?

(Thank you, friends! I think you’re wonderful and brave.)

41 thoughts on “unschooling: are you smart or dumb?

  1. Krysten

    I was called dumb by other students all through elementary school. In the second grade I was diagnosed with a learning disability and began to receive special services which helped but reinforced the dumb connotation. In fifth grade I had a wonderful teacher who raised my confidence level and made me feel smart. In middle school I learned how I learn. By high school I was no longer considered learning disabled, took advanced classes, and was considered smart by my classmates.
    My learning disability still impacts me today but I have strategies to work around it. I know that David or another one of my children have a good chance of having a learning disability too and that’s one of the reasons I want to homeschool. I hate the thought of my kids thinking they are dumb and hating school simply because they process things slower or differently. I want them to be able to learn at their own pace and style.

  2. Sharon

    I honestly don’t totally remember. I think there were times that I thought I was smart. I was in a gifted and talented program at one point and in a math class that was for more advanced people (which is such a laugh now, because I didn’t go very far in math due to lack of interest/ability). Anyways, I got good grades in most subjects, but compared to my friends who were in AP classes and such, I definitely did not feel book smart. Now, street smarts? Yep, I got that covered.

    1. Sharon

      As for my opinion now. It’s mixed. I’m still not “book smart” and there are tons of things that I don’t know (perhaps because I don’t really care about them) that the average person probably does. I definitely still consider myself street smart. I do love to read and learn, so I have some knowledge in a variety of areas. I sometimes think I’m smarter than people realize. Again, I am definitely not talking about being book smart. I just think some people may think I’m naive. But I’ve experienced quite a bit for my age, I think (could’ve said the same thing as a teen), and that, I think gives me an edge that people don’t realize. Lastly, I’m always interested in figuring people out, and so I think that’s an ability that I have. I mean, not that I 100% figure people out or that I can figure out every.single.person (my husband is still a mystery to me!) but I just think I understand peoples true motives more than they realize I do.

  3. Allison

    Dumb. Or at the very least, pretty average. I got good grades but was never in advanced classes or gifted programs, never had people talk to me and comment on how smart I was. Plus I had some skills in math that I didn’t learn in elementary because of moving so much, and rather than communicate this to the schools, my mom let me be put in a “slow” math class, which pretty much sealed it for me, as far as seeing myself as dumb.

    I have overcome that in recent years, after learning I had, in fact, been invited to join a gifted program in fifth grade but my mom declined for me, taking numerous online tests that repeatedly day that I’m not dumb, and having done very candid citations with people in mutt life who actually ARE very intelligent, who are shocked that I would ever think I’m not smart. The damage is hard to overcome, though. Even though I know I’m not dumb, I still default to that feeling when I get frustrated or make mistakes our have trouble learning something.

    It’s one (of many) reasons we homeschool. I don’t want my kids to have smart/dumb imposed on them from arbitrary, school- related experiences.

    1. Allison

      Sheesh. Autocorrect had a field day in my comment! I had conversations, not citations, with people in my life, not mutt life. πŸ™‚

  4. Sarah Farish

    I was considered “smart” because I made straight A’s. Looking back I realize I could NOT think critically. I could read a chapter and answer questions, but I could not problem solve. I hated it when the teacher said there’s no ONE answer. So…while I might still be considered “smart” – I realize I knew how to play the grade game, just as my current my students know how to. Hoping to change that in my classroom, but it’s quite difficult when grades are required and students have been conditioned to operate within the system.

    1. Risha

      Yes. This is me. Straight A student, co-valedictorian of my class, definitely would have considered myself in the “smart” group. Learning came easy to me for the most part. But then I got to college, and my critical thinking skills were nonexistent. They started talking about worldviews and why you believe what you believe, and I was lost. I still hate open-ended questions, like when I’m doing a Bible study or something. If there’s not a clear cut answer that I can point to in the book, I freak out!

  5. Laura Eckstein

    I of myself as smart. I thought school was easy most of the time. I was in the upper level classes even in elementary school. Having said that….I wish I could go back and redo Jr. High and High School. I was a goof off and breezed through on B’s. Really didn’t apply myself at all. My teachers that know me now as an adult have said that they never thought I would be the person I am today because I was such a goof. Bummer! I think of myself as smart today about what I have experienced. I am trying to improve myself on the Biblical front…..I had never applied myself to reading all of the Bible and studying scripture as I have the past 2 years. SAD! I am 51 years old….I could have had a better grasp!

    1. Christy

      The Why… I was put in the “Gifted and Talented” program in 1st grade. School was easy for me. I didn’t have to put forth much effort to excel. I still think I’m smart, but maybe not in the same way I was ‘smart’ in school.

  6. Dorian

    I entered school at 4 because my mother saw something in me. I did extremely well academically and spent a great deal of time in the hall and in detention after school. I was very serious internally. I never compared myself to other kids, but always to myself. I used to hide my “smartness” because I would get heat from my friends, otherwise. I excelled in music and sports, too, which led to arrogance in my early teen years. I learned about Jesus at 15. I was humbled and ascribed all glory due His name. I viewed high school as a “holding pattern” until I could go to college. I was so convinced that my high school was terrible (it was) that I took 11 classes in 8 periods my senior year because I thought no college would want anyone from that crappy school. I was legendary for studying in college and received many honours. ***SENSITIVITY WARNING**** I often thought I was insane because of the way my brain worked with math and music, but later in life and after having my IQ tested, I have learned to embrace and appreciate how my mind works. ****THANKS**** As a homeschooler and mom, I try to bring out and fan to flame the strengths of my kids while making them at least functional in areas that are not their bent.

    I do think that kids can get labeled early, either intentionally or not, and it is difficult to figure out the truth about themselves. Satan would love for us to believe those lies and never become our intended selves.

  7. Kim

    I scored high on achievement tests, won scholarships, and graduated college magna cum laude. Then I found out how little I really knew about what really matters. Although I had lots of Bible knowledge (ie Awana Citation Award), I didn’t have a Christian worldview with which to weigh all the garbage shoveled into me via university professors (sociology, “religious” and women’s studies–ack!!), mainstream media, etc. I was pre-med for awhile but had no idea the standard American diet was killing me and my family.

    So. The “smart” can be dumb and the “dumb” can be smart. God uses the foolish to shame the wise and I’m sure many people without degrees taught me a thing or two about everything from truly knowing God and seeking His ways to common sense nutrition……

  8. Danielle

    I always felt like a dumb kid, not because I was but because I wasn’t as good at school as my brother was. Being two years younger in a small town meant we had the same teachers, same assignments, same tests, and he always scored better on things than I did. Even when we were really little he was an avid reader and I struggled with reading until high school (I still struggle with comprehension if I’m tired.) It took a lot of years to realize that my brother is remarkably intelligent, but that doesn’t make me unintelligent. There are a lot of things that are easy for me that he really struggles with, and things that he excels at that I will just never do well. Our brains are different, our personalities are different, and even our kids are different, but it’s still sometimes a fight to remember that I’m not dumb and he’s not smart, we are just differently gifted.

  9. Elizabeth

    This is a hard question for me to answer because I don’t want to sound self-righteous. But I loved school and always knew it came rather easy for me, so I felt smart. I loved school and always loved to be challenged, and that’s never changed. But Geometry never made sense to me! I got a job as a hotess at Olive Garden-huge mistake! I never could do a good job figuring out where to sit people and how to arrange things. I now realize this is the same part of my brain that strugless to read a map or “see the big picture” in many situations in life, but it only made school hard for me a few times. So there are a few things (still) where I absolutely feel dumb and incapable. But give me the ACT anyday and I’ll be fine. I think this confidence has benefited me in all kinds of learning and many different settings, but I think it’s also a natural part of being a introverted, first born, over-achiever type. I don’t ever remember being told I was smart by teachers, etc. School was just a fun place for me.

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      You don’t sound self-righteous to me. But maybe because we’re SO MUCH ALIKE. πŸ™‚ School was easy for me, and I don’t know that I always loved it, but I liked it. I actually “understood” geometry (as in, I got straight A’s) but my spacial reasoning SUCKS. And the map thing is hard too. And I can’t parallel park. And a whole bunch of other things related to that. xoxo

  10. Daniele

    I have always felt inferior to others. It was obvious who the smart kids were in high school and I was not one of them. I made average grades. In college, I decided to go with elementary education degree because I didn’t feel smart enough to do anything else honestly. I thought I would be “smart enough” to teach elementary but never higher grades. Since a young age, I have had a passion for Spanish and I was able to take my first trip to Mexico. This fueled my love for the culture and the language and now I guess you could say I’m fluent. I could do fine if you dropped me in Spanish speaking country. But guess what? lol I STILL do not feel smart enough. I still get nervous when talking to a native speaker because of my lack of knowledge of the language. I love the idea of unschooling my kids but honestly, don’t think I’m smart enough to guide them…even learning together I am not sure I could raise the right questions or know how to get them started or keep them going. I want to discover who God created my kids to be and I want to help them grow towards that but I know that I need divine intervention to do so.

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      I’m sad that you don’t think you’re smart, friend. In my mind, anyone who can communicate effectively in a second language is SO SMART. I tell that to our refugee neighbor kids all the time. I hate (HATE HATE) it when Americans make fun of foreigners’ accents when they’re speaking English as a 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) language, and the mocker only knows ONE. (end rant) Thanks for sharing!

  11. Kelly

    Neither? Which probably means smart? I don’t remember school being hard and I really enjoyed it, which is why I (wrongly) became a teacher (now former).

    But I don’t describe myself as smart now. Because as an adult that equates with intelligent and I am most assuredly not. But I am smart at certain things? Can I be creatively smart and intelligent but not “book smart?”

    This has been a great topic for me to follow as a former teacher and anti-homeschooler. I’m not sold on unschooling because I have such fond memories of school and am a rule follower to a fault and j feel like unschooling is breaking the rules.

    But I’m thinking some rules were meant to be broken. Keep going. I’m enjoying this.

  12. Gaylene Carpenter

    I always thought of myself as “not-smart-enough”. I made good grades, honor roll most of the time, but I seemed to always pick friends who were “smarter”. I still struggle with feeling “not-smart-enough”, even though I am in the 1.4% of the world population (having the doctorate degree). I struggle with this and become embarrassed and frustrated when I am asked questions in the fields I have studied and I do not know the answers. Just to be clear, though, no one in my family or in school ever pegged me as “not-smart-enough”. I received a lot of praise for my grades, etc…

      1. Gaylene Carpenter

        BA in History & Psychology (took me 15 years to earn, attending six different colleges while marrying, giving birth to two children and moving several different times), waited 15 years (although I took classes in different things, I never concentrated on obtaining another degree) went after my masters in business administration, waited one year and went after my doctorate in business administration, with the concentration on management.

  13. Molly

    I struggled in school and always felt dumb and stupid even though everyone said I was very bright. The teachers said I just needed to apply myself. I couldn’t concentrate (yes, I even ate breakfast back then) and would even bring textbooks home every night. I tried to do the homework but would get so distracted I finally gave up each night. It wasn’t until my kids started having some of these issues that my doctor diagnosed me with ADHD. I do take medication for it and it helps some, but I still have a hard time focusing and sitting still for any length of time. I struggle with self esteem issues, but I am an outgoing person. I have realized that I’m not dumb and if I apply certain strategies when I need to take any type of test (room by myself where I can verbalize ect.) I can do well on things. Hope this answers your question πŸ™‚

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      Thanks, Molly. In that video I shared over the weekend, he talks about ADHD not being “an available condition” many years ago. We were all wired to need to move–some of us more than others. Our bodies and brains are connected, and many kids can’t do their best work when their body is still. (I hope to write more about this.) xoxo

  14. Melissa

    Growing up, I was definitely the smart kid in school. All the tests said so, my grades said so, I was in higher level classes, did well on my ACT, etc. School was not really ever a struggle for me on the academic side of things (it was challenging sometimes in other ways, like the social side of things). Now I probably still consider myself pretty smart, but I don’t know if I’m really incredibly smart or if I just am well-read and have tools that allow me to evaluate sources for credibility, do and understand research, and maybe most of all just because I have a desire to keep learning. I still think of myself as pretty smart though. I have done a lot of reading though and I think my idea of intelligence has changed. I used to believe growing up that you were either smart or you weren’t and there was nothing you could do to change that. Now, I’ve read and heard enough to know that you can get smarter and learn more and grow more – that intelligence is malleable. I try and always remember that, but it can be a real struggle for me, I struggle with my intelligence in a prideful way. It has been very hard for me not to look down on people I perceive as less intelligent than me. I think because it is the one thing I was always good at. I wasn’t particularly pretty, I didn’t always have a lot of friends, I pretty much suck at sports, but at least I was smart. At least I knew things. And so I think it’s hard for me to let go of that and stop judging other people for being “less intelligent” than I am because I’ve held so tightly on to it and because I tied it up so much in my self-worth. I know I am worth so much more in Christ and that my intelligence doesn’t matter, but it is very hard to just let go of something that I identified myself by. Okay those are my honest feelings and hopefully this is a safe place to put them. I think it will be, but it is scary to feel like I’ve put myself out there.

  15. Bethany

    This is something I’ve been realizing over the past several years and it is so life-changing! I thrived in public school. I knew how to get good grades, how to please teachers, how to study and how to take tests. I didn’t get a 4.0 in high school, but I was in the top 10 (of about 70). I was in the “high” reading group and looked down on those in the “middle” reading group, and especially the “low” reading group. But after I graduated from high school and then college, I realized that I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was. I was book smart, not street smart or real-life smart! And now I realize that I’m not even book smart! I just got good grades in school. That’s it. I love the idea of honing in on your children’s gifts and special interests and watching them soar. I really hope that our culture keeps going in that direction–more of a trade school instead of knowing a million things about all the subjects. We should learn the basics and then go deeper only in the things we will get a career in. We forget everything else anyway–I knew how to memorize for tests, but I don’t remember any of it.

      1. Bethany

        I don’t think I am “smart” but I do think I am wise and discerning (more of a spiritual gift anyone can have if they have the Holy Spirit). And I have decided that I don’t care about being smart. I care about whether my heart is soft toward God and if I am committed to Him. Smarts, money, beauty–all fleeting.

  16. Janelle Taviano

    Math has never clicked….
    Science has never clicked…..
    I can remember thinking in 4th grade….
    Why was I even born ? Because I was never ” smart in school ”
    To this day, it is where satan comes in…. ” how can you handle the finances for Africa…
    Rock’s retirement….” It was one of the first voices of INSECURITY, FEAR…that I listened to….and I was in bondage with it for the majority of my life !
    ** check out Ben Carson’s Testimony…..” he was voted, the dumbest kid in his class, school , even the world…..his mom only went to 3rd grade ”
    Only through reading….books and doing a book report for his Mom, literally…..
    did he change his ability to with hold information, his MOM would circle things, on his book reports…he said , “she couldn’t even READ” …..smile.

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